Apathetic, regretful, isolated? You’re not alone.

There seems to be a collective feeling, even though it’s the middle of summer, that life is actually flat and grey. Lockdown’s long gone, and the freedom we’d all fantasised about is finally here. But there’s no big relief. Instead many people are feeling apathetic, regretful and isolated. I, for one, am still working at the kitchen table. I daydream about doing my hair, commuting to an actual office, and meeting friends for cocktails. Instead I find myself trapped in a world of rapid flow tests, challenging childcare arrangements and virtual meetings.

And, it seems, this sterile environment is the perfect place to ponder whether our path in life is the right one. Last year, in lockdown, there was a slew of articles highlighting the trend of exes making contact again. It was, the experts believed, due to a need for connection during tough times. But now nostalgia has been replaced by serious, soul searching. And unsurprisingly these regrets and ruminations have lead to a general decline in mood and mental health. Lots of us are feeling apathetic, regretful and trapped.

Organisational Psychologist, Adam Grant, thinks the best term to describe our collective emotional state is languishing. He believes it’s a natural, very normal reaction to the stress involved in living through lockdown. If any of this resonates with you then please don’t despair. I’ve done my research and brought you three steps to improving your happiness, so you can get back on track to purpose and contentment.

1. Think about what you enjoy now and start doing it

Feeling apathetic is common at the moment, and Donna, a visual merchandiser, from Merseyside describes it perfectly, “I’ve been feeling really down for about 6 months now. I did consider a holiday abroad to cheer myself up last month, but quite frankly the paperwork seems too arduous and the risk of catching something is too high as I’m asthmatic. I thought about doing a costly training course to better my career prospects, but then decided against it. It’s being delivered virtually and I miss face to face. So, I find myself just grinding on each day. I feel really tired a lot of the time, and I’ve put on weight which makes me feel unattractive and puffy. But quite frankly I just can’t conjure the motivation to make any changes.”

If you find Donna’s feelings of apathy echoing your own, then there are small steps you can take to rediscover your motivation and happiness. Meeting a work colleague for a coffee, organising a night out with friends or booking a staycation can all give you a mini boost. Obviously, none of these activities alone will suddenly change your mood. But the slow drip, drip of filling up your happiness bucket with things you enjoy, may have a cumulative positive impact on your mental health.

2. Be aware how easy it is to fantasise about the life and loves not taken

Roshini from Birmingham works in events,

“At the moment I’m delivering events virtually, so I’m still working but without the buzz I get with live exhibitions. It’s nearly all admin and no networking. On top of this, my husband and I have been at home together since March 2020 and we’re really struggling. There’s no romance in the relationship. I find myself obsessing about an old university friend I one slept with 15 years ago. Some days he’s all I think about and I’m regretful I didn’t pursue things more with him.”

Many relationships are being pushed to the limit right now. And there’s no obvious let up around the corner, as homeworking looks set to continue for a while to come. However, this hiatus in normal life does give couples the opportunity to focus on their relationship and explore what’s going on for them.

Restaurants are still open, so dates nights can be organised to reconnect and ring-fence some romantic time together. Counsellors are also still available and holding face to face sessions with individuals and couples. Counselling can be an effective way to give yourself, and your partner, the time and space to work through issues within the relationship. It’s not unusual to come out of these sessions with a new self awareness and a fresh perspective on the role you play in the relationship.

It’s so tempting when a relationship runs into trouble to wonder whether you’d have been happier with someone else. Who knows? Perhaps 5 years down the line you’d find yourself in a very similar situation, but with a different partner. Often the purpose of a fantasy is a defence against accepting the reality we are living now. They can protect us from thoughts we’re not yet ready to explore. Fantasies also give us a chance to mentally escape to better times. Times when we were having fun, felt more ourselves and were experiencing exciting emotions such as lust, happiness and motivation.

3. Take your time before taking action

It’s been a hard 18 months, in which the word ‘unprecedented’ has been overused. But the pandemic really was unexpected and its knock on effects are unknowable.

Maybe the regrets you have about your current life aren’t nostalgia but a proper wake up call. Perhaps you’ve actually been apathetic, regretful and trapped in an unsatisfying relationship for years. In fact it’s quite possible that you really do want to leave your lover, pursue a different career or move house. And you’d have felt this way pandemic or not.

But, unless you are in a dangerous situation, like an abusive relationship, then you have time to make a decision. Sometimes the urge to act on a feeling, can be detrimental in the long run. Taking quick, reflexive action can make us feel better in the moment, but may be a distraction from something deeper that’s really bothering us. There are no shortage of people who’ve moved to the country and regretted it, or quickly left a relationship and then wish they’d tried harder. Pop star and actress, Louise Redknapp left her marriage of 19 years, for more fun and career opportunities. But when reflecting on the divorce she says,

“I should have paused and thought about other people and had just a bit more time to work out why I felt I couldn’t do it any more. I want to say to anyone thinking of running: Just slow down. Don’t run,”

I would love to hear your experiences of how you managed to harness happiness in these dreary times, please comment below.